Harper Harassment Controversy

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Overview

In November, 2006, two fathers of a boy at Harper Junior High School made public their concerns over the homophobia-based harassment of their son at the school. They sent out an email, later widely circulated, describing the harassment and urging community members to attend a Davis Joint Unified School District Board meeting on November 16, 2006. The school board meeting was full of supporters of the family and community members concerned by the reported harassment. The story was widely discussed in the local media.

The Email

Sent from the fathers of the student:

"On October the 14, 2006, we awoke to see our car engulfed in flames in our
front driveway, victim of a horrible arson. A week after the firebombing
of the car, our home was toilet papered and egged. We have since found out
that the toilet papering and egging were related to homophobia our son has
faced at his school. Over the past year he has been subject to a litany of
derogatory statements. These statements transformed into physical bullying
at school, and now have reached our doorstep.

We have attempted to address this issue with the principal and the school
district administration: the reception has been cold and lackluster. The
principal has attempted to justify the victimization of our son by stating
that the student consensus was that our son is annoying, that he talks too
much. The Friday after the weekend egging, we attempted to put Zach back
into school, with the reassurances of safety: he was harassed on that
Friday and the following Monday. The students involved did not receive
punishment for that Friday or Monday series of incident. During a meeting
on Tuesday, the principal suggested that we put our son in another school,
or perhaps consider independent study, isolating the victim further. The
principal further stated that he didn't care if we brought out protesters,
that he didn't care if we complained to the district-he was going to do
his job, and if they didn't like it, they could fire him. With the help of
another individual, we were able to persuade him to take action: but the
statements of the principal during a PA announcement and an address to the
school did not go far enough to explicitly state that there was a ZERO
TOLERANCE for homophobia. Students felt the message was weak. When meeting
with the district, they attempted to put the issue back onto the victims,
including my partner and myself. We would like your help to push the
school district and the schools to address this issue with the necessary gravity
to prevent further injustice in the schools, and to assure a safe place
for all students.

Please join us as we meet with the school board this Thursday for their
700 PM meeting. We would appreciate your support and input as we request the
response of the board in implementing a course of action to prevent
further bullying, homophobia and indifference. The meeting will be held in the
community chambers at:

Davis School Board Meeting

23 Russell Boulevard

Davis, California 95616"

School Board Meeting

The 11/16/06 school board meeting was packed. There were Davis Unified teachers and administrators, community activists, PFLAG representatives, and dozens of interested parents and residents. People also came from Sacramento and the North Bay. Many people spoke, in consistant support of the family, and offered ideas about how to address concerns about harrassment at Harper Junior HS.

Keltie Jones, the president of the school board and a lesbian mother of children in Davis public schools, described some of her own experience raising children in Davis schools and made a passionate commitment to improving the climate in the schools. Sheila Allen, a member of the school board, stated her support for the family and mentioned that she used this incident as a teaching opportunity for her own children. All members of the school board expressed support for the family and echoed a commitment to improve the climate in the school. A former member of Davis PFLAG discussed reports of litigation in several other school districts that resulted in significant monetary awards to families inadequately protected from similar harassment. Guy Fischer, one of the boy's fathers, spoke about his unhappiness with the response of the school to the harassment. The boy spoke about his experiences and said that he did not feel safe returning to school. The family's attorney spoke of the possible legal ramifications of the district continued failure to act and stressed that they would prefer an amicable resolution to litigation.

The agenda for the school board meeting read in part:

UPDATE ABOUT RECENT ACTIVITIES AFFECTING SCHOOL CLIMATE AT SCHOOLS
The district has a positive school climate board policy and an associated student discipline
policy and set of enforcement standards. Both the board policy and the disciplinary policy and
enforcement standards are attached. The student disciplinary standards are publicized to
students and parents each year, and during the year as needed, formally and
informally. Although the vast majority of students in the district naturally operate in accord
with the policy and the standards, that is not always the case for students. Students are not yet
adults. Inherently they are immature. Students are influenced by, but not controlled absolutely
by, adults who work closely with the students, whether at home or at school.
Given that context, schools promote correct behavior, and correct with varying consequences
behaviors that are inconsistent with the district's positive school climate philosophy and the
district's student disciplinary standards. When violations occur, the school staff is expected to
respond accordingly.
This item is agendized to share with the board what schools and their principals do when
violations occur, as has recently happened at Harper Junior High School.

Press Coverage

The news of the email and meeting were shared by the Davis Enterprise, California Aggie, and local community radio.
The Davis enterprise ran a story about the school board meeting and published several letters to the editor on the subject. The California Aggie published an article discussing the school board meeting and the allegations of fire-bombing and vandalism in the email. The fathers of the boy discussed their experience on local community radio.

A local blog, The People's Vanguard of Davis has a couple of Video Clips of Mr. Fischer's testimony:
School Board Meeting:[WWW]http://davisvanguard.blogspot.com/2006/11/more-on-anti-gay-junior-high-harassment.html
City Council Meeting:[WWW]http://davisvanguard.blogspot.com/2006/11/father-of-junior-high-school-student.html

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